Italy had strongly opposed India invoking the law, arguing that it
would amount to treating the men as "terrorists" and last week it
recalled its ambassador to New Delhi in protest against the delay in
the two-year-old case.
The sailors, part of a military security team protecting a
privately-owned cargo ship, say they mistook the fishermen for
pirates and fired warning shots into the water during the incident
in February 2012, off the coast of Kerala state.
Indian attorney general Ghoolam Vahanvati told the Supreme Court on
Monday that the prosecution did not intend to proceed against
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone under the anti-piracy
section of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts. He gave no reason.
"We want to delete the anti-piracy clause," he said. The men can
still be tried under India's criminal laws, but the punishment there
in case of a conviction is ordinarily less stringent than under the
The government had originally sought to prosecute the marines under
the piracy law partly because the incident occurred outside the
geographical area covered by the country's criminal code.
It said, however, that the sailors would not face the death penalty,
which the anti-piracy law usually carries, because it has not
permitted the investigation agency handling the case to invoke that
particular clause in the legislation.
However, it was not clear whether a court would have had to obey
this selective block.
The dispute over the marines has provoked a public as well as a
political outcry in both countries. In India, supporters of harsh
penalties for the men have marched on the streets.
[to top of second column]
The Supreme Court on Monday said it would rule on whether India's
National Investigation Agency which handles cases relating to
national security should investigate the fishermen's deaths at its
next hearing. It gave no date for the next session.
The top court ruled over a year ago that a trial would take place in
India, but charges have not yet been filed. Defense lawyers for
Italy and the marines maintain that the incident happened beyond
The delays in filing charges, not unusual in India's notoriously
slow legal system, spurred Italy to approach the apex court last
month demanding a nod for the marines to return home and a block on
any use of the anti-piracy law.
The two men deny killing anyone or aiming directly at the fishing
boat. They are on bail but cannot leave India.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; writing by Sanjeev Miglani;
by Ron Popeski)
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